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Melissa Kitson, 44, Killed in Two-Car Crash in SoMa

Seventh and Howard Streets. Image: Google Maps

Last Friday, two drivers ran over and killed 44-year-old Melissa Kitson of San Lorenzo at 7th and Howard Streets, the second pedestrian fatality in San Francisco this year.

Melissa Kitson. Photo via LinkedIn

According to press accounts, the crash occurred at about 5:45 p.m. Police say the investigation is ongoing, and there are few details available on how it occurred. Both drivers reportedly stayed on the scene, and we’re waiting to hear back from the SFPD about whether either of them will be cited or charged.

As the Chronicle reported, Kitson worked for RedBricks Media, located on Folsom Street just east of 7th, and may have been on her way home when she was hit and killed instantly. Elliot Easterling, the ad firm’s CEO, told the Chronicle, “She was a very sweet and superb person. She was a good worker.”

“Two people have already been killed while walking this year in San Francisco,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF. “When she was hit by two cars and killed, Melissa Kitson was likely walking home from work. That shouldn’t be a life-threatening activity, especially in San Francisco.”

The wide, one-way streets in the South of Market district continue to function as speedways for drivers, and the rate of  pedestrian injuries and deaths in the area will remain disproportionately high until Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin make traffic calming measures there a priority. “We need leadership and commitment from the city to fix dangerous streets and prevent more bewildering tragedies,” said Stampe.

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Will CPMC Pick Up the Slack for Street Safety in the Neglected Tenderloin?

Jones at Turk Street. Photo: pbo31/Flickr

Despite living in one of the city’s densest residential neighborhoods with one of the lowest rates of car ownership, Tenderloin residents have endured some of San Francisco’s most dangerous streets for walking since traffic engineers turned most of them into one-way, high-speed motorways in the 1960s.

In a BeyondChron article yesterday, editor and Tenderloin Housing Clinic Director Randy Shaw spotlighted the city’s longstanding neglect of safety improvements and traffic calming on Tenderloin streets, even while such projects come to other neighborhoods. The SF County Transportation Authority’s Tenderloin/Little Saigon Transportation Plan, which was adopted in 2007 and calls for two-way street conversions and other upgrades for pedestrians and transit, has seemingly remained a low funding priority for the city, wrote Shaw:

While the city finds money for streetscape improvements on Divisadero, Upper Market, the Marina and other affluent neighborhoods, the city has not funded a single major Tenderloin pedestrian safety or streetscape improvement program in over thirty years…

San Francisco is actively creating more livable streets for pedestrians, bicyclists, local businesses and neighborhood residents. It’s a terrific development.

But what’s not terrific is denying the Tenderloin its fair share of transit funds. It is a blatant example of the city discriminating against low-income residents.

There is hope that most of the improvements in the Tenderloin Plan could be funded by California Pacific Medical Center in a development agreement with the city for its plans to build the massive new Cathedral Hill Campus at Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue. However, with a revised agreement being negotiated behind closed doors that will likely be downsized from the original one, it’s unclear whether the new version will retain a requirement for CPMC to provide nearly $10 million in funding for street improvements to mitigate the impacts of inundating the Tenderloin with car traffic. ”Not only do the traffic impacts caused by the project require it,” wrote Shaw, “but transit planners still have no plans to allocate public dollars for calming traffic, improving streetscapes or doing anything else along Eddy and Ellis Streets” beyond the few blocks that have been converted to calmer, two-way traffic flow.

“Randy is rightly cross about the slow pace of implementing the Tenderloin transportation plan,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. ”San Francisco’s traffic patterns tend to impose the greatest traffic burdens on neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, Mission, and SoMa — generally denser, poorer, and whose residents generate the least car traffic. The bureaucratic foot-dragging around reclaiming traffic sewer streets like those in the Tenderloin is both unjust and unsustainable.”

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SF Has to Pick Up the Pace on Downtown Protected Bike Lanes

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In Chicago, a new two-way, parking-protected bike lane is being constructed on downtown Dearborn Street, four months after it was announced. Photo: trapgosh/Flickr

Bicycling in San Francisco is getting better since the bicycle injunction was lifted in 2010, and concrete progress on projects like the critical Fell and Oak Street bikeway is very encouraging. But this week also made bicyclists in SF painfully aware that as the SF Municipal Transportation Agency gets closer to completing the projects in its Bike Plan, it will need to elevate its game to keep up with the nation’s leading cities. The upcoming release of the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy is a can’t-miss opportunity to pick up the pace.

The latest reminder that SF risks falling far behind the leading American cities came when bike advocates around the country got a look at Chicago’s new, protected two-way bike lane on downtown Dearborn Street — providing a 1.2-mile connection to another protected lane on Kinzie Street. It’s part of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s commitment to building 100 miles of protected lanes within his first four years of office. And it stands in contrast to the much slower roll-out of protected bike lanes, so far, under SF Mayor Ed Lee.

The SFMTA is planning a handful of similar projects on streets like Market, Second, and Polk, and getting improvements like that into the pipeline is hugely important. Still, those improvements are several years off from construction, as part of larger street makeovers. Meanwhile, cities like Chicago and New York are making much more rapid progress toward building continuous protected bike routes into their major job centers.

San Francisco could catch up, depending on the commitments the SFMTA makes in its upcoming Bicycle Strategy, which planners are expected to brief the agency’s board on in January. SFMTA staff says the strategy will lay out a network of priority routes for bike improvements that will help attain the city’s official goal of increasing bicycling’s share of all trips to 20 percent by 2020.

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Planners Refine Ped Upgrades, Protected Bike Lane Designs for Second Street

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One of three options for the height of the bikeway would raise it to a "half-step" between the curb and the roadway. Images: DPW

The developing plan to overhaul Second Street with protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety upgrades took another step forward yesterday when staff from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, the Department of Public Works, and the Planning Department presented more refined design options to the public.

Under the proposal, the entire one-mile length of Second Street would be rebuilt with 6-foot-wide bike lanes next to the sidewalks, separated from motor traffic and car parking by a 4-foot raised buffer, which would be planted in some areas and widen to an 8-foot boarding island at bus stops. It would be the first street to feature bicycle traffic signals at each intersection, creating separate signal phases to reduce conflicts between bicyclists and right-turning drivers. Planners presented three options for the height of the bike lanes: they could be level with the sidewalks, level with the road, or raised about halfway between (which is the norm in Copenhagen).

“It’s exciting to see hundreds of Second Street residents and workers developing the plans for the one-way separated bikeway and pedestrian improvements being proposed for Second Street,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “It’s especially encouraging that DPW’s survey results show clear preference for this proposal from people who live and work hereThis project is sorely needed for Second Street and we hope the city works hard to prioritize getting this project in the ground.

It will be some time — three years — before the safety overhaul is completed. Construction, originally scheduled to begin in July 2014, was pushed back to January 2015, and is expected to take a year. The estimated project cost, which includes the total reconstruction of the street, has also increased to $13.2 million from the original $6-8 million.

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Protected Bike Lanes, Ped Safety Upgrades Proposed for Second Street

An option for one-way protected bike lanes on Second Street. Images: SFDPW

Second Street could get protected bike lanes, sidewalk extensions, lane reductions, greening and more under options presented to residents last night by the SF Department of Public Works and the Municipal Transportation Agency.

Of the four options presented, one would include one-way protected bike lanes (or “cycle tracks”), and another would include a two-way protected bikeway on the street’s west side. Bikeways in both of those options would be separated by planted medians and could include bicycle traffic signals at each intersection, planners said. The other two options included painted, unprotected bike lanes, either with parking on both sides or with a center turning lane (removing parking on one side) like the one on Valencia Street.

The alternatives, which would redesign Second between Market and King Streets, were based on visions proposed by groups of residents at a workshop in May.

These improvements would be made under any option.

With any of the alternatives, the street would get a road diet, with four traffic lanes reduced to two. Planners said the street would get also pedestrian safety upgrades along the corridor, like corner bulb-outs, curb ramps and raised crosswalks at alleyways. The dangerous dual right turn lane at Second and Harrison Streets would be removed, converted into pedestrian space and possibly opened to development. (Architect David Baker, who writes the blog Great Second Street, would have rather turned it into a “BARKlet”.)

Both of the protected bike lane options would include bus boarding islands to the left of the bike lanes, meaning Muni buses would stop in the traffic lane. To help speed up the 10-Townsend and 12-Folsom Muni lines, which run on Second, the SFMTA is already proposing prohibited left turns along the street from 4 to 7 p.m., said DPW Project Manager Cristina Olea. That change, which would help get left-turning drivers out of the way of buses, is expected to go to a public engineering hearing on October 5.

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Taxi Driver Who Killed Man in Tenderloin Yet to Be Cited or Charged

Photos: Sally Khim

Police are still looking into whether charges could be filed against the taxi driver who allegedly ran a red light at Eddy and Larkin Streets Saturday, causing a car crash that killed pedestrian Edmund Capalla, the SF Examiner reports. The driver has reportedly yet to be arrested or cited.

“We have to see if he was negligent,” SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told the Examiner. “He may have had a medical emergency, I don’t know.” Esparza called the crash a “heartbreaking accident,” adding that it “could have been prevented if laws had been obeyed.”

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe said “the police should be telling us what actually happened, not speculating on excuses for the driver.”

“We know there was a medical emergency: Edmund Capalla was hit and killed while walking,” she said. “We expect solid information from the police about how this occurred. Walk SF and its members want to see swift action on this case from the police and, if appropriate, from the District Attorney’s office.”

Christina Siadat and Sally Khim were at a store on Larkin when they heard the crash. “We ran outside and saw the red car on the pole,” Siadat told Streetsblog. “We walked around the corner and there was the man lying face down with shattered glass.”

Siadat said a clerk at a corner store confirmed reports that the taxi driver ran a red light when the driver of the red car, who had a green light, hit the taxi, causing it to slam into Capalla, who was crossing the street. “The clerk said that the cab driver was sitting on the curb with his head in his hands,” she said.

The crash occurred just before 7 p.m., during daylight hours. Capalla, who died at San Francisco General Hospital, was the eleventh known pedestrian killed in the city this year.

The driver of the red car, who reportedly entered the intersection with a green light, hit the taxi before running into a pole. Siadat said she and Khim didn't notice the taxi at the time.

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Man Killed By Alleged Red Light-Running Taxi Driver at Eddy and Larkin

Eddy and Larkin during the two-way traffic conversion in April. Photo: geekstinkbreath/Flickr

Updated 6:57 p.m.

A man was killed on Saturday evening by a taxi driver who allegedly ran a red light at Eddy and Larkin Streets, the Bay City News reported as published by SF Appeal this morning. He is the eleventh known pedestrian killed this year in San Francisco.

According to the SF Chronicle, Edmund Capalla, 38, was crossing the street just before 7 p.m. when the driver ran a red light, was struck by another driver entering the intersection, and slammed into him. Cappalla was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where he died of his injuries. “Police are continuing their investigation and will pass the results on to the District Attorney’s office which will decide what charges, if any, will be filed against the cab driver,” according to the Chronicle.

Despite that stretch of Eddy being converted to a two-way street in April, which helped calm motor traffic, the Tenderloin continues to see some of the highest rates of pedestrian injuries in the city.

“If you look at the maps that we have of where the most injuries occur to people walking, the Tenderloin is a real hot spot,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “We need to see a renewed conviction from the city to making improvements that save lives.”

In February, a driver was caught on video running over a man in a crosswalk at Eddy and Leavenworth Streets, two blocks away. The driver was only cited after a show of outrage from pedestrian advocates, and will apparently not face charges since the victim didn’t die.

Assuming the preliminary reports regarding this latest crash are correct, more traffic calming measures and traffic enforcement are clearly needed to curb the amount of dangerous speeding and other violations committed by drivers in the neighborhood.

As information becomes available, we’ll follow up with more details on the crash and any charges that may stem from it.

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8th St. Buffered Bike Lane a Step Up, But When Will SoMa Really Feel Safe?

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Eighth and Mission Streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A new buffered bike lane was striped on 8th Street last week, re-purposing a traffic lane for bicycles on one of SoMa’s fast, one-way motorways. The new configuration, which removes bicyclists from the door zone and provides a much wider lane, is an improvement over the four speed-inducing traffic lanes and skinny bike lane that previously existed. Still, many say it’s just a small step toward a truly safer street.

The bike lane upgrade was included as part of a re-paving project at the urging of bike advocates and D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who wanted to seize the opportunity to re-configure the street striping as a cost-effective way to help calm motor traffic, create a more comfortable space for bicycling, and reduce crossing distances for pedestrians.

“Eighth Street was prioritized partially because of its history of pedestrian injuries,” said Kim. “While SoMa is a mixed use neighborhood, we have many residents — families and seniors, in particular — on Eighth between Mission and Folsom, that cross these dangerous speeding intersections daily. The traffic calming efforts, repaving, bike lanes and speed limit reductions on Howard and Folsom are helping to change that dynamic.”

“Eighth street is an important connector corridor between the Civic Center, Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods,” she added. “As the neighborhood grows, I want to see more people walking and biking as their first choice of transportation to make short trips.”

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, said the organization urges “the city to take advantage of more of these opportunities to piggyback onto existing repaving projects to make low-cost, yet significant, safety improvements.”

“In the case of Eighth Street, it was originally scheduled to be put back the way it was, which was more room for auto traffic than was needed and sub-standard bike space,” she said. “Now, thanks to the changes, we have a more comfortable bikeway for the growing number of people riding and we have a safer street for people to cross on foot.”

However, advocates and readers have noted that the layout is far from ideal. “There’s still the need to slow down the traffic on this street, as it still moves far too fast for what it should be — a neighborhood street,” Shahum said. Some motorists also drive in the bike lane, as it’s wide enough to accommodate them and lacks any physical barrier keeping them out. Muni buses must also now cross the wider bike lane and the parking lane to access bus stops.

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SFMTA Sets 25 MPH Limits on Four SoMa Streets. Time for Speed Cams?

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Speed limits have been lowered from 30 MPH to 25 MPH on Howard, Folsom, Harrison, and Bryant Streets in the South of Market area, the SFMTA announced yesterday.

Howard Street. Photo: geekstinkbreath/Flickr

The agency approved the speed limit reductions last year as “an effective way to improve pedestrian and traffic safety in the area,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin in a statement. “When traveling at a slightly reduced speed motorists have more time to react, making the roadway safer for everyone.”

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe applauded the measure to calm traffic on “wide, fast, freeway-like streets,” which see the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities in the city. ”Every day, more people are living, working, and walking in SoMa, and safer speeds here will be better for everyone.”

But while physical changes to the street will also be needed to effectively slow car traffic, SFMTA board member Cheryl Brinkman said that “enforcing those speed limits will continue to be a challenge,” and she’s “determined to get camera-based speed enforcement on the legislative agenda for next year.”

“If we cannot afford the level of police officer coverage needed to keep drivers from routinely breaking the law and endangering our citizens, we need to move with the technology of the times and start automating enforcement as Chicago is doing,” said Brinkman. Chicago recently approved a program that enables the city to blanket streets near schools with speed enforcement cameras.

A statement from SFPD Chief Greg Suhr didn’t mention any plans to increase enforcement in the area, though he said “traffic safety is one of the many missions of the SFPD.”

“Through the combined efforts of SFMTA traffic engineers and SFPD education and enforcement campaigns, we can make the city’s streets safer for all who use them,” said Suhr.

The new speed limits are now in effect on Howard from the Embarcadero to South Van Ness Avenue; on Folsom and Howard from the Embarcadero to 13th Street; and on Bryant from the Embarcadero to 11th Street. The SFMTA said it installed 13 signs in addition to the ones they replaced to help ensure drivers are aware of the change.

Brinkman said she’s “thrilled that we’re continuing to review and lower speed limits in SOMA and across the city,” adding that she ”can see a time coming when all but a few key streets will have 20 MPH speed limits, making walking, biking and just being on the street much more pleasant and safe.”

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Eyes on the Street: SFMTA Restores Two-Way Traffic on Ellis

The SFMTA last week restored two-way traffic on four blocks of Ellis Street, from Polk to Jones Streets. It’s the final phase of a project that also converted two blocks of the adjacent Eddy Street last month, bringing humane traffic speeds to what used to be highway-like, one-way arterial streets.

In front of the Tenderloin National Forest at Ellis and Leavenworth. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

Check out more of Frank Chan’s always-stellar shots after the break and on his Flickr account.

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